The Weekly Cross : On October 6, 2001, the first France-Algeria football match in history was interrupted in general confusion after the invasion of the field by Algerian supporters. Since then, the two teams have never met again. How to explain it?
Stanislas Frenkiel: Two years ago, the president of the French Football Federation (FFF), Noël Le Graët, who is very attached to this rapprochement through football, wanted there to be a new match. This is no longer on the agenda at all: the Covid destabilized the two teams, then the Algerian Federation changed president. Discussions should therefore be resumed, especially since political relations between the two countries have cooled for some time.
→ ARCHIVE. France-Algeria at the Stade de France
In 2019, after Algeria’s victory at the African Cup of Nations (CAN) and a year after the Blues’ world title, the moment was ideal…
FS: Yes, we would have witnessed a magnificent match between players who know and appreciate each other. Some dual nationals playing for Algeria would no doubt have liked to be selected in France, but choosing the Fennecs team today no longer has the same meaning. When Nordine Kourichi was the first player born in France to play for the national team in 1980, a feeling of guilt and betrayal still dominated.
→ EXPLANATION. For Algeria, a CAN final with a taste of revolution
The situation has changed a lot: at the 2014 World Cup, sixteen of the twenty-three Algerian players were born in France, it’s incredible! Even if they proudly display their identity in the event of victory, they are young people from the French suburbs who have always evolved in a globalized professional world.
Seen through the lens of football in the broadest sense, what is the relationship between the two peoples today?
FS: There are “gateway” players. Nabil Fekir, world champion with France in 2018, allows easier double identification. Just as the sales of Blues jerseys have never been so important since the return of Karim Benzema. On the Algerian side, coach Djamel Belmadi, a “Beur” born in 1976 in Champigny-sur-Marne, unites through his successes. Their simple family name allows for multiple identification. Through them, we can be from Val-de-Marne, from the Lyon suburbs, from France, from Algeria… I was in Algeria during the 2006 World Cup, the inhabitants supported Zidane’s France, the France of our cousins , friends, where we would like to travel.
In France, gatherings of Algerian supporters often arouse the concern of the authorities and the hostility of part of the population. How to put an end to this discomfort?
FS: Despite all the goodwill in the world, a malaise will always remain. On the French side as on the Algerian side, some, maintained by “lobbyists”, will always pass themselves off as victims of a lack of recognition, of a memory that is fading, and will cause uproar in the street. The issues are identity, economic and political. A discourse of “nostalgery” is fueled by people who do not want to turn the page, sixty years later.
Under what conditions could a new France-Algeria match be held in harmony?
FS: The meeting should already take place in Algeria. No one will take the risk of having new overflows in France. Algeria was very surprised and very angry at what happened in 2001, its image had once again been tarnished. I was there at the time and I heard: “It has nothing to do with us, it’s the immigrants. It is a Franco-French problem. » If the Algerians organize this match, they will be keen to show their competence and their hospitality, which is an undeniable Algerian quality.
There should also be a political dialogue, a common desire to share, to experience a great moment of sport and fraternity. But is there a political interest in such an event in a country where the extreme right is more than 25% of voting intentions? Dark forces also prevent this brotherhood on the other side of the Mediterranean. Since 1962, power has legitimized itself permanently on anti-colonialism. But the young Algerians of today did not experience this period and neither did their parents.
How big a step would this match be in normalizing relations between the two countries?
FS: The advantage of sport is that it is not only a revealer or a mirror. He is a transformer of society, he can be transgressive. Such a match would be extremely followed in the media, it would be the calling card of a revival. This revival exists in civilian life, the Algerian people know that the French fought for their independence, they have friends in France. Relations are not frontal, they are ambivalent. It would be a fraternity match, as Sports Minister Marie-George Buffet wanted in 2001. A game of acceptance of dual membership for Franco-Algerians, on both sides of the Mediterranean.
Stanislas Frenkiel is a historian and lecturer at the University of Artois. He published in 2021 Immigrant Football. France-Algeria, shared history (Artois Presses Universités, 316 p., €24), which traces the history of Algerian immigration through football. He also runs the YouTube channel “Sport Time”.
On October 6, 2001, the first France-Algeria football match in history was organized, supposed to celebrate reconciliation and friendship between the two countries. The interruption of the meeting following the invasion of the field by Algerian supporters created an identity malaise that persists today. But thanks to the dual nationals playing on both sides, the teams of France and Algeria have never seemed so close and the question of a new match arises.